“To her, red and green cabbages were to be jade and Burgundy, chrysoprase and porphyry. Life has no weapons against a woman like that.”

It’s nice to be back at my Pulitzer readings: Selina DeJong continues to be a plucky character, and someone I find it easy to cheer for.  As the above quotation rightly notes, there is something unsinkable about her—I don’t know if it’s true to say that the ability to find beauty in simple things is sufficient insulation against the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”, but it’s an attractive thought.  Selina certainly doesn’t seem to give in to despair very easily.

And this is a woman with plenty to despair about.  Her marriage to Pervis DeJong was a mistake from the beginning—he loved her, true, and she loved him.  But neither of them knew how to show that love in ways the other would understand, and both of them seemed to think of the other as a sweet but naive person in need of “looking after”.  Love may conquer all, but not this kind of love.  We deceive ourselves too easily.

Pervis’s death is expected (the book begins, after all, with Selina alone with her son, Dirk “Sobig” DeJong), and not particularly sad.  It’s not that he’s a villain; he’s just an obstacle to the plot, and he’s cold enough outwardly that it’s hard to feel a connection to him.  I find his farm as isolating as Selina does, and I am as reluctantly relieved as she is to think that her world will become larger.

It’s a scary world, though, that she steps out into.  She has to figure out how to get goods to market and make sufficient sales to stay alive.  This is a world that doesn’t respect women in such a role, and the road to Chicago is long and dark.  No one will buy from her, and she and her son sleep out in the cold.  It’s fascinating to look at the Haymarket through her eyes–a chaotic flood of peddlers and maids dashing about buying fresh produce.  It hasn’t struck me before how profoundly supermarkets have changed our lives, but I’m certainly thinking about it now.  This was a tough experience, though, watching Selina sink deeper into the mire and believing that there would be no way out of disaster.  A delightful and somewhat unexpected discovery, though, clutches her out of danger, at least for the moment.  I’m hopeful that the story’s taking a good turn for her and little Dirk—this is a story where I’d be really glad to get a happy, storybook ending.  We’ll see if I get it.


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